The little red jewel in the bottom of your wineglass
is so lovely I cannot rinse it out,

so I go into the cool and grassy air to smoke. 
Which is your warmly lit house

past which no soldiers march to take the country back?
When you reached across the table to touch my hand

is not attainable. I cannot recapture it.

And no gunners lean on their artillery at the city’s edge,
looking our direction,

having shot the sky full of bright holes. 

The light bleeds from them
and it always will. 

Long ago, they captured our city
and now they are our neighbors,

going about their business like they were
one of us.

Soon, like you, they will be asleep,
having washed the dishes and turned out the kitchen lights.

When I inhale, smoke occupies me. 
When I exhale—

By morning the wine in the bottom of your glass
will have clotted.

I’m sorry I called it a jewel.
It is not the soldiers who have shot me full of holes.

It is not light that pours out.
Love did this.

I was filled with wine.
Now I am drained of it. 

Copyright © 2016 by Kevin Prufer. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 29, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

We unstave the winter’s tangle.
Sad tomatoes, sullen sky.

We unplay the summer’s blight.
Rotted on the vine, black fruit

swings free of strings that bound it.
In the compost, ghost melon; in the fields

grotesque extruded peppers.
We prod half-thawed mucky things. 

In the sky, starlings eddying.
Tomorrow, snow again, old silence.

Today, the creaking icy puller.
Last night I woke

to wild unfrozen prattle.
Rain on the roof—a foreign liquid tongue.

Copyright © 2016 Tess Taylor. Used with permission of the author. 

I.

The rung wide
           receiver forgets why

he set his keys on the football field.
           Whose are they? he asks—a ringing

in his ear—while clenching
           the green. As if on the edge

of a pool, he tilts his head to drain
           water out of his canal.

It was like that, all the time,
           after. How many fingers?

he was asked, and not to tell
           a lie—it would mean his career.

It would mean recognizing you
           without your jacket when you

walked out of the room. It would mean
           you could say, Stay here

with me, and in his eyes
           could watch him come back.


II.

I spiral the parking lot, singing,
           It’s alright, I’m alright,

while I count the pole lights back
           to my car. I practice red, table, lamp

with a neuropsychologist and now
           I can tell you about how my brain

blew in the acceleration. I was in
           a locked position—the details

unbearably clear in the replay and, still,
           no one else heard me swallow

the impact. Bend at your hips
           from your two-point stance and, there,

the muffler is a finger wagging
           one one one inches from the ground.

The tire-less car rests on its crutch
           of blocks, the windows a crunch

of glass. Are you feeling the rush now
           as you look to me, your brain still

in your head—is it still in your head?
           Can you point for me where

it happens in the connection, where
           on the line the old equipment

resets itself and loops?
           Is what you say the truth?

Copyright © 2016 Janine Joseph. Used with permission of the author.

I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
           full of the names of odd flowers

I’ve grown in secret.
           I know none of these by name

but have this garden now,
           and pastel somethings bloom

near the others and others.
           I have this trowel, these overalls,

this ridiculous hat now.
           This isn’t a lung full of air.

Not a fist full of weeds that rise
           yellow then white then windswept.

This is little more than a way
           to kneel and fill gloves with sweat,

so that the trowel in my hand
           will have something to push against,

rather, something to push
           against that it knows will bend

and give and return as sprout
           and petal and sepal and bloom.

Copyright © 2016 Jamaal May. Used with permission of the author. 

More than a hundred dollars of them.

It was pure folly. I had to find more glass things to stuff them          
       in.

Now a white and purple cloud is breathing in each corner

of the room I love. Now a mass of flowers spills down my                  
      dining table—

each fresh-faced, extending its delicately veined leaves

into the crush. Didn’t I watch

children shuffle strictly in line, cradle

candles that dribbled hot white on their fingers,

chanting Latin—just to fashion Sevilla’s Easter? Wasn’t I sad?          
      Didn’t I use to

go mucking through streambeds with the skunk cabbage raising

bursting violet spears?  —Look, the afternoon dies

as night begins in the heart of the lilies and smokes up

their fluted throats until it fills the room

and my lights have to be not switched on.

And in close darkness the aroma grows so sweet,

so strong, that it could slice me open. It does.

I know I’m not the only one whose life is a conditional clause

hanging from something to do with spring and one tall room          
      and the tremble of my phone.

I’m not the only one that love makes feel like a dozen

flapping bedsheets being ripped to prayer flags by the wind.

When I stand in full sun I feel I have been falling headfirst for          
      decades.

God, I am so transparent.

So light. 

Copyright © 2016 Noah Warren. Used with permission of the author.

In the recesses of the woman’s mind
           there is a warehouse. The warehouse
                      is covered with wisteria. The wisteria wonders

what it is doing in the mind of the woman.
           The woman wonders too.
                     The river is raw tonight. The river is a calling

aching with want. The woman walks towards it
           her arms unimpaired and coated
                     with moonlight. The wisteria wants the river.

It also wants the warehouse in the mind
           of the woman, wants to remain in the ruins
                     though water is another kind of original ruin

determined in its structure and unpredictable.
           The woman unlaces the light across her body.
                     She wades through the river while the twining
                              wisteria

bleeds from her mouth, her eyes, her wrist-veins,
           her heart valve, her heart. The garden again
                     overgrows the body—called by the water

and carried by the woman to the wanting river.
           When she bleeds the wisteria, the warehouse
                     in her mind is free and empty and the source

of all emptiness. It is free to house the night sky.
           It is free like the woman to hold nothing
                     but the boundless, empty, unimaginable dark.
 

Copyright © 2016 Brynn Saito. Used with permission of the author.

                   THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

From The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

Here come my night thoughts
On crutches,
Returning from studying the heavens.
What they thought about
Stayed the same,
Stayed immense and incomprehensible.

My mother and father smile at each other
Knowingly above the mantel.
The cat sleeps on, the dog
Growls in his sleep.
The stove is cold and so is the bed.

Now there are only these crutches
To contend with.
Go ahead and laugh, while I raise one
With difficulty,
Swaying on the front porch,
While pointing at something
In the gray distance.

You see nothing, eh?
Neither do I, Mr. Milkman.
I better hit you once or twice over the head
With this fine old prop,
So you don't go off muttering

I saw something!

From Walking the Black Cat, published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by Charles Simic. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.

for Octavio


There's a book called
"A Dictionary of Angels."
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She's very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

From Sixty Poem by Charles Simic. Copyright © 2008 by Charles Simic. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Trade Publishers. All rights reserved.

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.

My brother and sister who died at birth
Continuing their existence in you,
Guiding my life
Toward their incomprehensible innocence.

What use are books to me
When in you it is possible to read
The Gospel of my life on earth
And still beyond, of things to come?

I want to proclaim the religion
I have devised for your perfect humility
And the strange church I am building
With you as the altar.

Ascetic and maternal, you endure:
Kin to oxen, to Saints, to condemned men,
With your mute patience, forming
The only true likeness of myself.
The dark wood after the dark wood: the cold 
after cold in April's false November.
In that second worser place: more gone, less there,
but in that lurid present present, cast and held, 

rooted, kept, like some old false-berried yew. 
Just against; the door leading to preferment 
shut; no longer believing in still, by some, few
means, method, could be, but for the bad day set, 

left, leaning atop bad day. 
							Out- and un-

ranked, toothached, wronged— rankled corruptive thing!
Ill-wishing, in-iquitous, clipped, up-hoped, stripped: just plain: thin.
Dare thy commit: commit this final fatal sin: 
God my God, I am displeased by spring.

Copyright © 2014 by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 9, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

In this life,
I was very minor.

I was a minor lover.
There was maybe a day, a night
or two, when I was on.

I was, would have been,
a minor daughter,
had my parents lived.

I was a minor runner. I was
a minor thinker. In the middle
distance, not too fast.

I was a minor mother: only
two, and sometimes,
I was mean to them.

I was a minor beauty.
I was a minor Buddhist.
There was a certain symmetry, but
it, too, was minor.

My poems were not major
enough to even make me
a “minor poet,”

but I did sit here
instead of getting up, getting
the gun, loading it.

Counting,
killing myself.

Copyright © 2016 by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

O my Love sent me a lusty list,
Did not compare me to a summer's day
Wrote not the beauty of mine eyes
But catalogued in a pretty detailed
And comprehensive way the way(s)
In which he was better than me.
"More capable of extra- and inter-
Polation. More well-traveled -rounded multi-
Lingual! More practiced in so many matters
More: physical, artistic, musical,
Politic(al) academic (I dare say!) social
(In many ways!) and (ditto!) sexual!"
And yet these mores undid but his own plea(s)(e)
And left, none-the-less, the Greater Moor of me.


About this poem:
"No, really, a found poem; however, I also find, that if one reads thirty or so Shakespearean sonnets in a row (out loud), something is bound to happen."

Olena Kalytiak Davis

Copyright © 2013 by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on February 15, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

When icicles hang by the wall
   And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
   And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
                        Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow
   And coughing drowns the parson's saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
   And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
                        Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

This poem is in the public domain.

Sometimes I don’t know if I’m having a feeling
so I check my phone or squint at the window
with a serious look, like someone in a movie
or a mother thinking about how time passes.
Sometimes I’m not sure how to feel so I think
about a lot of things until I get an allergy attack.
I take my antihistamine with beer, thank you very much,
sleep like a cut under a band aid, wake up
on the stairs having missed the entire party.
It was a real blast, I can tell, for all the vases
are broken, the flowers twisted into crowns
for the young, drunk, and beautiful. I put one on
and salute the moon, the lone face over me
shining through the grates on the front door window.
You have seen me like this before, such a strange
version of the person you thought you knew.
Guess what, I’m strange to us both. It’s like
I’m not even me sometimes. Who am I? A question
for the Lord only to decide as She looks over
my résumé. Everything is different sometimes.
Sometimes there is no hand on my shoulder
but my room, my apartment, my body are containers
and I am thusly contained. How easy to forget
the obvious. The walls, blankets, sunlight, your love.

Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 8, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

This poem is in the public domain. 

When everyone was granted their childhood
wish for invisibility, it turned out

to be less erotically useful than we all
had imagined. Since then the first

legitimately wild idea I had I tamed
and named Thom Yorke, after a pony

who’d clomped among the precincts
of my visible youth, refusing

to be rode, my use of the word first
also proving to have been based

on an unfounded sense of possibility
that ill-defines my generation still.

Hidden message: we cannot measure
the corruption of our age

but we can make the heat of it
ever hotter by leaping onto the pyre.

On hearing the kvetching of coyotes
in an August night, my doppelganger

climbs up out of the lake
and into a constellation—when light

and death both want you,
one of them might not get its way.

I’ve given names to a dozen other ideas
and deleted those names

because who could they ever have saved.
Impossibly sweet and recalcitrant

old Thom Yorke though,
best pony anybody knew.
 

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Bibbins. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 15, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

The obvious is difficult
To prove. Many prefer
The hidden. I did, too.
I listened to the trees.

They had a secret
Which they were about to
Make known to me—
And then didn’t.

Summer came. Each tree
On my street had its own
Scheherazade. My nights
Were a part of their wild

Storytelling. We were
Entering dark houses,
Always more dark houses,
Hushed and abandoned.

There was someone with eyes closed
On the upper floors.
The fear of it, and the wonder,
Kept me sleepless.

The truth is bald and cold,
Said the woman
Who always wore white.
She didn’t leave her room.

The sun pointed to one or two
Things that had survived
The long night intact.
The simplest things,

Difficult in their obviousness.
They made no noise.
It was the kind of day
People described as “perfect.”

Gods disguising themselves
As black hairpins, a hand-mirror,
A comb with a tooth missing?
No! That wasn’t it.

Just things as they are,
Unblinking, lying mute
In that bright light—
And the trees waiting for the night.

From The Book of Gods and Devils, published by Harcourt Brace & Company, 1990. Copyright © 1990 by Charles Simic. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

some black women are my friends & their tears seem the hems
                           of blue dresses.   I ball un-ball
my pocketed palms
                           & think on stockings, bells.

among my students sometimes number black women—
I wish their tears were rungs;  such desire may too be grease,                tho.

my mother’s youngest sister’s torn calendar tears,
             Mondays, Marches, 29ths, ’91s & ’83s
till wicker bins choke, shredder hacks.

a couple of tears, middle sister pinches at her eye,
a black woman’s spyglass. she peers
through the wide between her &.

my older cousins, black women, their tears are:
             (a)  fresh batteries in broken clocks
             (b)  ruined coin souvenirs
             (c)  wheatbread heels jim crowed in fridges
             (d)  what pitted the yellow linoleum thus

the black mother of the black woman who married me,
her tears’re sunk ships:
coral polyps load the lode  & awful hopeful at it.

...!!!] then I’m at last quiet.
                                       my daughter, black girl, rattles,
at me, her scabbard of tears.


my younger cousins, black women, their tears are:
            (a)  pill bottles
            (b)  in pill bottles
            (c)  lids you press down, then turn to loose
            (d)  anything bottled & near bathroom mirrors

likely my father’s oldest sister, black woman,
kept her tears where they’d pass for shotgun:
            slant shade the jamb threw as simmering mask.
 
            my father’s other sister, her tears stop his mouth,
or they’re wood doves, cote’d in his chestnut mind?

grandmother, my black father’s mother? gone.
her tears were empty chairs: pine
                                                  among pine-ware.

white bowl      though the rice there was tears of my great aunt,
black woman.

these days, my grandmother, black woman who mothered my               mother,
mislays her tears—she always finds them in the,
                                                            finds them in,
                                                            finds them—.

the black woman who married me,
her tears inside her out like black church stockings   /     runs.

& my black mother dead.

Copyright © 2016 by Douglas Kearney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 25, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Don’t worry. One kills in dreams
but wakes having not killed.

Having not killed is part of waking. Some mornings, though,
you lay there pinned under layers of light, fear,

and woolen blankets.
You know what’s right and what’s wrong,
what you don’t know is what happened
and if you were actually there.

That’s why dreams of digging a deep hole with a stolen shovel
are so confusing. That’s why you expect to jerk awake
when you stand in a pile of dry brush
holding a lit match in your hand.

The best thing to do, always,
is get up and walk down the stairs.
Don’t leave.
Not yet.

Wait awhile in the kitchen, it doesn’t matter whose kitchen,
and let the house absorb the blame.
That’s what a house is for.

You aren’t screaming,
you’re insisting
because you’re always wrong,
even while you sit on the ground before daybreak waiting
for enough light to gather sticks.
You don’t know yet what a stick is.
You can’t be expected to remember anything
once you’ve seen the sun rise.

All day long, you walk back and forth through the field,
standing guard over what didn’t happen
to keep it from mixing with what did.
You didn’t shoot the gun, you just listened well
when people talked about how to do it.
You didn’t walk unscathed through the fire,
you walked unscathed over it.
You happened to find a narrow bridge.

You wouldn’t purposely hurt anyone,
but keep describing all the ways that you would.
List all the things that never happened,
and see if you can suck clean the edges of what did.

Copyright © 2016 by Catie Rosemurgy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

(Ruth Stone, June 8, 1915 - November 19, 2011)
 

And suddenly, it's today, it's this morning
they are putting Ruth into the earth,
her breasts going down, under the hill,
like the moon and sun going down together.
O I know, it's not Ruth—what was Ruth 
went out, slowly, but this was her form,
beautiful and powerful
as the old, gorgeous goddesses who were
terrible, too, not telling a lie
for anyone—and she'd been left here so long, among
mortals, by her mate—who could not,
one hour, bear to go on being human.
And I've gone a little crazy myself
with her going, which seems to go against logic,
the way she has always been there, with her wonder, and her
generousness, her breasts like two
voluptuous external hearts.
I am so glad she kept them, all
her life, and she got to be buried in them—
she 96, and they
maybe 82, each, which is
164 years
of pleasure and longing.  And think of all 
the poets who have suckled at her riskiness, her
risque, her body politic, her
outlaw grace!  What she came into this world with,
with a mew and cry, she gave us.  In her red
sweater and her red hair and her raw
melodious Virginia crackle,
she emptied herself fully out
into her songs and our song-making,
we would not have made our songs without her.
O dear one, what is this?  You are not a child,
though you dwindled, you have not retraced your path,
but continued to move straight forward to where 
we will follow you, radiant mother.  Red Rover, cross over. 

Copyright © 2013 by Sharon Olds. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on November 5, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

                         1

Everything gets slow, stops.
I reread the telegram.


                         2

I remember the squirrel dead
at the end of the driveway.
The body thrown up on the grass
next to the azalea.
The red where the car hit
so different from the red
of the bush.
All that day and the next
I thought of ways
to stay close to my mother.


                     3

They auction the contents
of the estate. Limoges and
cloisonné, piece after piece.
The bed she slept in, her silver
tea set. I notice cobwebs
in corners, dust, places
where the wallpaper's faded.
Her painting for some other wall,
her gold for someone else's finger.
Outside taillights slash the night:
red and more red.

First appeared in the May 1981 issue of Poetry. Copyright © 1981 Jim Handlin. Used with permission of the author.

The mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
At the end of a long pier
The bored seagull lifts a leg now and then
And forgets to put it down.
There is a menace in the air
Of tragedies in the making.

Last night you thought you heard television
In the house next door.
You were sure it was some new
Horror they were reporting,
So you went out to find out.
Barefoot, wearing just shorts.
It was only the sea sounding weary
After so many lifetimes
Of pretending to be rushing off somewhere
And never getting anywhere.

This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The heavens did their part
By casting no shadow along the boardwalk
Or the row of vacant cottages,
Among them a small church
With a dozen gray tombstones huddled close
As if they, too, had the shivers.

From The Voice at 3:00 a.m.: Selected Late and New Poems by Charles Simic. Copyright © 2003 by Charles Simic. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Trade Publishers. All rights reserved.

Green Buddhas
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.

From Return to a Place Lit By a Glass of Milk, by Charles Simic. Published by George Braziller. Copyright © 1974. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Let us enter this again. In the context of this paragraph,
we are hurtling backward through space, toward a small
opening: I press my hand to your lip and you bite. You bite
my spine. Ben his jawline was stellar. Ben his curlicue.
His cellphone iPhone. His and everyone’s iPhone, in my hand,
on my lap, at the mezzanine. The opera is going full speed.
The soprano arrives to tell Falstaff, to tell him. I fall
from a great height onto a woman’s head. It splits and I
become the split, standing later for a portrait. The hero
of the town walks alone at night, carrying in his eye a single
feather. He wears this feather in his eye as a kind of penance.
For his bravery many men will die for many years to come

Copyright © 2016 by Anaïs Duplan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 2, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

I call to you as a prism to its oracle denies any prescriptive allure. What is a high sound when a sparrow takes it. When breath snatches. A latch catches. Dear diary. I am home now and affect a suitable disregard.

On a screen everyone is very particular. Does this explain.

It is this bird we want, not that one. This one not that one. Myth is the difference between birds.

Is this a letter for us to open. It is. Red yellow blue green and violet. Pressed between as petals in a bound volume for their proper keeping. Repeat, as necessary. A gift expresses the meek constituency of a recollected pleasure.

Who is happier when blind or blinded. Who says happy now.

From Archicembalo by G. C. Waldrep. Copyright © 2009 by G. C. Waldrep. Used by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.

I can only find words for.
And sometimes I can’t.
Here are these flowers that stand for.
I stand here on the sidewalk.

I can’t stand it, but yes of course I understand it.
Everything has to have meaning.
Things have to stand for something.
I can’t take the time. Even skin-deep is too deep.

I say to the flower stand man:
Beautiful flowers at your flower stand, man.
I’ll take a dozen of the lilies.
I’m standing as it were on my knees

Before a little man up on a raised 
Runway altar where his flowers are arrayed
Along the outside of the shop.
I take my flames and pay inside.

I go off and have sexual intercourse.
The woman is the woman I love.
The room displays thirteen lilies.
I stand on the surface.

From Poems 1959–2009 by Frederick Seidel. Copyright © 2009 by Frederick Seidel. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved.

Sometimes it’s
        bigger than my
              body, the body

that gave it
        life, that is
              its life—as if I’m

a frame for
       it, as if it
              continues beyond

my end, although no
        one, not here,
              can see where

it goes, how
        far, & now
              it finds

its way into
        every possible
              place I

imagine, even
        the past, which believes
              in my scar like

a prophecy, & like a god’s
        work, I have no
              memory of it breathing

into me &
        abstracting me
              to myth from which to

remake the world
        into the rising
              & falling

action of fiction—my body
        as denouement. Sometimes I feel
              it without waiting

for its hum on
        the nerves, its shivering
              arc from eye

to jawbone. How often
        I want to
              give it a voice so

it can tell
        me what I want
              it to say—that it knows

me like tomorrow
        does. That a need lives
              in lack’s because.

Copyright © 2015 by Emilia Phillips. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
   useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the
   same thing may be said for all of us—that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand. The bat,
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base—
   ball fan, the statistician—case after case
      could be cited did
      one wish it; nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry,
   nor till the autocrats among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”—above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion—
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness, and
      that which is on the other hand,
         genuine, then you are interested in poetry.

From Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg. This poem is in the public domain.

weren’t built to let the sunlight in.
They were large to let the germs out. 
When polio, which sounds like the first dactyl
of a jump rope song, was on the rage,
you did not swim in public waters.
The awful thing was an iron lung.
We lined up in our underwear to get the shot.
Some kids fainted, we all were stung.
My cousin Speed sat in a vat
of ice cubes until his scarlet fever waned,
but from then on his heart was not the same.
My friend’s girlfriend was murdered in a hayfield
by two guys from Springfield.
Linda got a bad thing in her blood.
Everybody’s grandmother died.
Three times, I believe, Bobby shot his mother.
Rat poison took a beloved local bowler.
A famous singer sent condolences.
In the large second floor corner room
of my 4th grade class the windows were open.
Snow, in fat, well-fed flakes
floats in where they and the chalk-motes meet.
And the white rat powder, too, sifts down
into a box of oatmeal
on the shelf below.

Copyright © 2012 by Thomas Lux. Used with permission of the author.

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

Grateful for their tour
of the pharmacy,
the first-grade class
has drawn these pictures,
each self-portrait taped
to the window-glass,
faces wide to the street,
round and available,
with parallel lines for hair.

I like this one best: Brian,
whose attenuated name
fills a quarter of the frame,
stretched beside impossible
legs descending from the ball
of his torso, two long arms
springing from that same
central sphere. He breathes here,

on his page. It isn’t craft
that makes this figure come alive;
Brian draws just balls and lines,
in wobbly crayon strokes.
Why do some marks
seem to thrill with life,
possess a portion
of the nervous energy
in their maker’s hand?

That big curve of a smile
reaches nearly to the rim
of his face; he holds
a towering ice cream,
brown spheres teetering
on their cone,
a soda fountain gift
half the length of him
—as if it were the flag

of his own country held high
by the unadorned black line
of his arm. Such naked support
for so much delight! Artless boy,
he’s found a system of beauty:
he shows us pleasure
and what pleasure resists.
The ice cream is delicious.
He’s frail beside his relentless standard.

From Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2008 by Mark Doty. Used with permission by HarperCollins.

Not wholly this or that,
But wrought
Of alien bloods am I,
A product of the interplay
Of traveled hearts.
Estranged, yet not estranged, I stand
All comprehending;
From my estate
I view earth’s frail dilemma;
Scion of fused strength am I,
All understanding,
Nor this nor that
Contains me.

This poem is in the public domain.

    1

The best part
is when we’re tired
of it all
in the same degree,

a fatigue we imagine
to be temporary,
and we lie near each other,
toes touching.

What’s done is done,
we don’t say,
to begin our transaction,

each letting go of something
without really
bringing it to mind

until we’re lighter,
sicker,
older

and a current
runs between us
where our toes touch.

It feels unconditional.


    2

Remember this, we don't say:

The Little Mermaid
was able to absorb
her tail,

refashion it
to form legs.

This meant that
everything’s negotiable

and that everything is played out
in advance

in secret.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Rae Armantrout. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets. 

I had sworn I wouldn’t write
another poem about my mom
but in the museum there is a room
filled with centuries-old pottery sherds
and it is difficult not to start seeing
symbols everywhere. We walk through
the frigid air toward a reconstructed
temple, likely stolen, I say, and she
looks at me. A rope keeps us from going
further. Who are you texting? she asks
and I want to scream but don't.
What question could she ask
that wouldn't make me bristle?
I once called our fights a kind of dance
in a poem I rightly tore up. I won’t
call it anything I tell myself in the poem
I told myself I wouldn’t write.
I’d change the subject but resistance
is a sign to go forward, I tell my students
because something is wrong with me.
So I go forward into what it might mean
to struggle a few hours with the one
who made me, whose dark I once lived
inside. We step into the centuries
between us and the vessels behind glass
which once held water, grain, and now
the silence of a light so gentle
as to not damage the precious things.

Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Siegel. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 15, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Only through a disaster or a renovation
does the entire brick side of a house come down
and in this case the workmen threw stoves and refrigerators
out the windows, letting them bounce
off the fire escapes into the little Brooklyn yard.
And I wouldn’t presume to say
they did it gleefully, but the brute force
resulting in the massive sound
well, it would be difficult not to feel some satisfaction
I would think, but I don’t take apart
whole houses for long hours at a time, and I
can’t say how anything around me experiences life—
for instance whether the sparrows
who burrow in the small hill of dirt
by sitting close as cookies on a cookie sheet
then fluttering and chittering, and turning a bit
like gears in a watch, and more chittering
as if they are winding it—
whether enjoyment comes to the sparrows;
nor the tenor when the mice, bucking expectation
change direction to squeeze inside
after the long winter, seemingly undeterred by the four of us
having an earnest discussion about the painting in the Whitney
but racing—calmly, somehow—between the couches
as if it were their private two a.m.;
or the ants who also appeared in the kitchen as if
the first daffodils in the yard trumpeted directions to them
to carry items thrice their size right away
finding just what they needed, a year later;
and all this triggering a cleaning jag
during which I pulled the refrigerator and stove
out from the wall, cleared the shelves, took out the rugs
and saw the naked planes and corners
we made a life within, while across the yards
the construction crew, passing
their own halfway point, had begun to rebuild the place.
How emphatically the truly knowledgeable have worked
to insure we don’t ascribe delight
to living things other than ourselves! But when
the cardinal joins his mate on the top of the fence—
a peck on the beak—framed by the bared stories of the house
and the furred buds on the winter straw of a bush
look like green hoofs about to gallop into leafness
you can’t tell me to separate
the work of instinct from the moment for a jay
when something feels one-hulled-sunflower-seed-better
than the moment-before-the-sunflower-seed
or to deny that fortune in this place
has allowed optimism to alight with sunlight
on the orange construction helmet of the man now
home in bed—regardless, regardless of it all.

Copyright © 2017 by Jessica Greenbaum. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 18, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

From Complete Poems: 1904–1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

What things are steadfast? Not the birds.
Not the bride and groom who hurry
in their brevity to reach one another.
The stars do not blow away as we do.
The heavenly things ignite and freeze.
But not as my hair falls before you.
Fragile and momentary, we continue.
Fearing madness in all things huge
and their requiring. Managing as thin light
on water. Managing only greetings
and farewells. We love a little, as the mice
huddle, as the goat leans against my hand.
As the lovers quickening, riding time.
Making safety in the moment. This touching
home goes far. This fishing in the air.

From All of It Singing. Copyright © 2008 by Linda Gregg. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day's work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

From The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff. Copyright © 1976 by Charles Reznikoff. Used by permission of Black Sparrow Press, an imprint of David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.

Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running though the Gut,
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Hearing your words and not a word among them (Sonnet XXXVI)," from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.

my parents were born from a car. they climbed out
& kissed the car on its cheek. my grandmother.
to be a first generation person. 23 and Me reports
i am descendant of pistons & drive trains. 33%
irrigation tools. you are what you do. my first job
was in a lunch meat factory. now i’m bologna.
it’s not so bad being a person. the front seat of a car
is more comfortable than the trunk. when they were babies
my parents dreamt of being Lamborghinis. not
people. you are what your children grow up to do.
if i put my parents' names on papers, what happens?
the answer is no comment. the answer is quién sabe.
the answer is yo no sé, pero no es abogado.
people are overrated. give me avocados.

Copyright © 2018 by José Olivarez. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

I will wade out
                    	   till my thighs are steeped in burn-
ing flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
                                	   	Alive
                                            	               with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
                                	  in the sleeping curves of my
body
Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
                                	         Will I complete the mystery
of my flesh
I will rise
        	After a thousand years
lipping
flowers
             And set my teeth in the silver of the moon

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

just as I am I come
knee bent and body bowed 
this here's sorrow's home 
my body's southern song

cram all you can 
into jelly jam 
preserve a feeling 
keep it sweet 

so beautiful it was 
presumptuous to alter 
the shape of my pleasure
in doing or making

proceed with abandon 
finding yourself where you are 
and who you're playing for 
what stray companion

Copyright © 2006 by Harryette Mullen. Reprinted from Recyclopedia with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.